Hard News by Russell Brown


Gordon Campbell has a perceptive story on where Iraq is likely to head in the next year or two in this week's Listener, quoting Juan Cole and Riverbend. I suspect he's right to argue that doom-mongers like Tariq Ali, and optimists like George Bush, "both overrate the capacity of American power to dictate events."

A good deal of the US masterplan - especially the blank-slate economic restructuring - won't survive long after any meaningful transfer of sovereignty. The position of US forces in the long term - the bases in the desert and all that - will prove untenable. Iraqis, probably not without strife, will run things for themselves.

Things will probably be better than they were under Saddam - except perhaps for Iraq's women, who will find their western-style rights shrinking away.

Meanwhile, there's the not-insignificant issue of bloodshed and chaos to be got through now. Reports emerging from Fallujah tend to confirm the "insurgent propaganda" over the official CPA message. The Sydney Morning Herald has Flight from a town where sports fields are graveyards, Slate a disturbing account of the road to Fallujah, Rahul Mahajan has Destroying a Town in order to save it in his Empire Notes blog ("When the assault on Fallujah started, the power plant was bombed"), and Electronic Iraq is carrying an eyewitness report that is, in places, stomach-churning. Claims that around half the dead in Fallujah are women and children do not appear to be inaccurate. This thing needs to be hauled around, soon.

Meanwhile, back in the US, armchair media soldiers continue to churn out hateful swill like this: "We've forgotten the arithmetic of patriotic battle: That it's better for a hundred of them to die than for one of us to die." Read it and be speechless.

Just to get all geeky on yo' asses, there's a really interesting commentary on what Google is up to with all that brainpower it has hired in the past couple of years: an omnipresent global computing platform?

Google has taken the last 10 years of systems software research out of university labs, and built their own proprietary, production quality system. What is this platform that Google is building? It's a distributed computing platform that can manage web-scale datasets on 100,000 node server clusters. It includes a petabyte, distributed, fault tolerant filesystem, distributed RPC code, probably network shared memory and process migration. And a datacenter management system which lets a handful of ops engineers effectively run 100,000 servers.

Further commentary on the commentary is here.

Opposition to the Civil Unions Bill is a necessary branding exercise, for United Future, hence the advertising campaign. Fine. But I feel bound to point out that Peter Dunne's argument against the bill (and its rather more important accompanying omnibus legislation) is nonsensical.

His key plank ("The state sanctions marriage simply because marriage invariably involves children, so there's a need to have some protections in there. I don't think the same applies with regard particularly to same-sex relationships and I think the state should butt out.") is lifted directly from Maxim Institute PR.

Marriage and parenthood can and quite frequently do exist independently of each other (or are childless couples not really married?). Dunne keeps on talking about civil unions "replacing" marriage: in fact, of course, the Marriage Act won't be touched. Marriage will remain exclusively between a man and a woman. (Lianne Dalziel discussed this quite intelligently on National Radio, before her resignation.)

David Young has contributed a very interesting thinkpiece entitled 'Uncivil Union: A conservative case for gay marriage' in this week's Listener - offline-only, unfortunately - in which he quotes the pro-gay marriage Economist: "To establish something short of real marriage for some adults would tend to undermine the notion for all … Why shouldn't everone, in time, downgrade to civil unions?"

It's a useful point, but to some extent that's already happening. A good many secure, loving family households - mine, for example - hold together nicely without a formal marriage. We have (most of) the relevant rights and, after the two civil union bills pass, all couples living "in the nature of marriage", including same-sex couples, will gain further rights (the civil unions are purely a means of recognising a relationship - they don't confer any actual rights themselves). I'm a practical chap, and civil unions seem like a practical step to me.

Anyway, we'll be debating it further from 1-2pm on The Wire on 95bFM, with the Rev Richard Randerson, Bruce Logan from the Maxim Institute (here's what he thinks) and David Herkt.

And while we're on the topic of union, I had a fabulous time acting as best man at the wedding of my dear friends Andy and Michelle Moore on Saturday. It was everything a wedding's meant to be: a declaration of enduring love and commitment before family and friends. But they'd been living together for years, and had two fine boys, before they made the decision to wed. A generation or two ago, that might have been scandalous - now it's probably not even unusual. Things change more than some people like to admit. And in an age when strangers get married as part of radio promotions, Saturday seemed pretty good to me.

Oh, and to the enterprising relative who had us up to a penthouse suite at Metropolis after the reception - top work!

PS: A had some interesting comments on both the New York Review of Books essays I linked to yesterday - I'll try and cover them tomorrow.